Decision on Four Day School Week Due May 9

The RE-2 school board of directors will hold a work session Thursday, May 5 and a general meeting on May 9, at which time a vote on a four day school week will be taken. Parents, students and concerned citizens attended a public forum on the matter this past Tuesday, and the public had an opportunity to express their views on the cost-saving measure. The Lamar district is looking at a short fall budget of as much as $146,000 for the 2011-2012 school year and budget cuts and staff reductions have already taken place, and more may come.

Citizens, teachers and teachers representing their separate schools addressed the issue, weighing the pros and cons of reducing the district to four days, a move that parallels Las Animas, Wiley, McClave and Holly districts. Larry Pearson led the public speakers, stating he has over 30 years invested in the Lamar school system and was opposed to reducing the school week. “You won’t be able to maintain your academic level with 36 less teaching days in the year,” he stated, and offered advice through experience that the more concrete, academic subjects need to be taught early in the day, before students tire. Kathleen la Cost, speaking on behalf of the Parkview Elementary staff mentioned the pros and cons they considered, such as the savings on substitute teachers, and student attendance may climb with a four day week. She and several other speakers noted that families could have more time together with a three day weekend, high school students could find jobs after school, and the Las Animas schools showed a quick adjustment to the new schedule. However, some staff felt the switch would put an extra economic burden on struggling families, some children would miss out on two meals on a four day schedule, and it would mean later hours for youngsters. Greg Ludvig and Kim Miramontes spoke for the middle school staff, offering the idea that less classes would be missed if sport events were held on Fridays and not in the middle of the week, and some students are less attentive and more tired by the time Friday rolls around. Miramontes said she surveyed 7th grade students for their input and got mixed results, although 74% of the students favored a reduced week for various reasons. Talara Coen, administrator of Alta Vista charter school favored the five day week, citing later hours for her K-6 grade students, lack of student supervision on Fridays, and her staff felt they couldn’t accomplish their academic goals in a shortened week. She said, “I have students that will excel in either the four or five day week, but the ones that I’m most concerned about are the ones who need the extra attention, and may not get it with the change.”

Some twenty participants voiced their concerns, including day care providers, some of whom said they were already at a maximum capacity for youngsters and couldn’t handle anymore. Some questioned how you could generate a quality education with less classroom time, some asked the community to pull together and support the board and the students and teachers no matter the outcome of the vote. Other suggestions included a five-four-five day schedule through the year, based on the Christmas and spring breaks. A similar idea said only the older grades should switch and leave elementary students at a five day schedule. Lamar has 13 licensed day care providers that currently accomodate 53 students of all ages. The Welcome Home Child Care Center has room for 25 students, but now have 19 enrolled. The Teen Center in town welcomes as many as 70 students each afternoon, but their grant cycle is expiring and won’t know until this June if it will be renewed.

Before the forum, Ron Peterson, president of the board told The Prowers Journal, the board had been questioning other similar sized districts in the state that made the four day switch. He said Pueblo and Wiley couldn’t be factored in, as one is very large and has many options and the other has such a small student population, the numbers wouldn’t translate for Lamar. Peterson said, We have to develop our budget in May, but we won’t be certain about state aid per student until the annual headcount in October.” He estimated around 20 less students for the next year, which would mean a cutback in state funding, but he added, that can be spread over several years to lessen the impact. Peterson added, the districts receive 80% of their funding from the state and he was reluctant to even consider a mill levy override, if even for a year. “We have a recession underway, we’re dealing with a drought and everyone is making personal and professional budget cuts. The board needs to do all it can to reduce costs before we consider going before the voters to ask them for a tax increase.” Newly hired superintendant Dave Tecklenburg gave a quick synopsis of the school’s financial affairs saying cutbacks on transportation, utilities, substitute teachers, even janitorial supplies is at this point only an estimate toward reducing the budget by another $150,000.

By Russ Baldwin


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